Revolutionary pioneers

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Stylist Team
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We take a look at some of the greatest female revolutionary pioneers through time; women who changed the world as we know it by breaking boundaries in fields of science, government, aviation and more.

Each of these women dared to be first - challenging convention and stepping outside of their expected roles to create new opportunities for their sisters. From sport and physical feats to the first woman to obtain a degree, here are some of history's greatest female role models...

Picture credits: Rex Features and Getty Images

  • First woman in space

    In 1963, former textile worker Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman to travel to space. The 26-year-old Russian was the fifth cosmonaut to go into the Earth's orbit.

  • First to receive a degree

    A Venetian philosopher of noble descent, Elena Lucrezia Cornaro Piscopia was the first woman to receive a degree. She studied philosophy at the University of Padua, receiving a doctorate on 25 June 1678.

  • First female Doctor

    The first recorded woman to graduate from medical school in 1849, Elizabeth Blackwell was the first female doctor in the USA and the first on the UK Medical Register, as well as a pioneer in educating women in medicine.

  • First to run a theatre

    Successful English actress Laura Keene settled in New York City in 1855 and became the first woman to manage her own theatre and theatrical company. In a controversial twist, President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated whilst watching her production of Our American Cousin at Ford's Theatre, New York.

  • First to run for President of the USA

    Although little known today, American suffragist Victoria Woodhull was the first woman to ever run for President of the United States in 1872. She made a fortune with her sister on the New York Stock Exchange and was one of the first women to open a Wall Street brokerage firm.

  • First to argue in the Supreme Court

    Belva Lockwood was one of the first female lawyers in the United States. After fighting for seven years, the law school graduate was admitted to appear before the Supreme Court in 1873, working on a divorce case. For the first time in history, the verdict included a judgment forcing the husband to pay alimony.

  • First to publish a modern cookbook

    Before Fannie Farmer's pioneering cookbook was published in 1896, recipes were handed down by word of mouth and never used exact measurements. Farmer's self-published The Boston Cooking School Cookbook changed the way Americans prepare food by advocating the use of standardised measurements in recipes.

  • First to win an Olympic Gold medal

    Five times Wimbledon singles champion, Charlotte Cooper (on the right) became the first female to win an Olympic Gold Medal (for tennis) in 1900.

  • First to receive the Nobel Prize

    Chemist and physicist Marie Curie was the first woman to be awarded the Nobel Prize in 1903, for her work on radiation.

  • First to lead a Muslim state

    As the 11th prime minister of Pakistan, Benazir Bhutto became the first woman to head a Muslim state in 1988. She ended military dictatorship in the country, and was noted for her battle for women's rights. She was assassinated in a suicide attack in 2007.

  • First to be elected to British Parliament

    Countess Constance Markiewicz was the first woman elected to England's House of Commons in 1918. However she did not take her seat, in protest against Britain’s policy in Ireland.

  • First to sit in British Parliament

    Although not the first woman to be elected, Viscountess Nancy Astor was the first woman to take her seat in UK Parliament in 1919.

  • First to win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction

    Edith Wharton was awarded the distinguished Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1921 for her novel The Age of Innocence.

  • First to swim across the English channel

    In 1926, American Gertrude Ederle became the first woman to swim across the English Channel. The media dubbed her "Queen of the waves".

  • First to cross the Atlantic in an aeroplane

    Amelia Earhart was the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic in an airplane, making her voyage in 1928 after fellow pilot Amy Phipps Guest decided it was "too dangerous" for her to undertake.

  • First to join the US Presidential Cabinet

    In 1933, sociologist and Progressive reformer Frances Perkins became the first female member of a US Presidential cabinet, serving as Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Secretary of Labor.

  • First television announcer

    In 1936, Elizabeth Cowell becomes the first woman television announcer for the BBC.

  • First to fly a helicopter, rocket plane, and a jet fighter

    German aviator Hanna Reitsch (left) set over forty aviation altitude and endurance records during her career in the 1930s and 40s - and was the first woman to fly a helicopter, a rocket plane, and a jet fighter.

  • First to break the sound barrier

    Pioneer Jacqueline Cochran was the first woman to break the sound barrier in flight on May 18, 1953, in a Canadair Sabre jet.

  • First head of a government

    Sri Lankan politician Sirimavo Bandaranaike was the world's first female head of government, serving as Prime Minister of Ceylon and Sri Lanka three times, 1960–65, 1970–77 and 1994–2000, and a long-time leader of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party.

  • First woman to own a seat on the NY Stock Exchange

    Hailing from Ohio and known as the "First Lady of Finance", Muriel “Mickie” Siebert was the first woman to own a seat on the New York Stock Exchange in 1967, and the first woman to head one of its member firms.

  • First to climb Everest

    On May 16,1975, Junko Tabei from Japan became the first woman to climb Mount Everest.

  • First Prime Minister of Britain

    Whatever you thought of her politics, the "Iron Lady" Margaret Thatcher was revolutionary as Britain's first female Prime Minister, serving from 1979 to 1990.

  • First to complete a quadrathlon

    In 1983, Brenda Yule became the first woman to complete a gruelling quadrathlon - involving swimming, kayaking, cycling and running.

  • First to sail around the world solo

    In 1988, Australian Kay Cottee was the first female sailor to perform a single-handed, non-stop circumnavigation of the world. It took 189 days.

  • First female member of the Supreme Court

    American jurist Sandra Day O'Connor was the first female member of the Supreme Court of the United States, appointed by President Reagan in 1981.

  • First President of Harvard

    Although they began admitting women to their graduate programmes in the 1940s, America's oldest university had never had a female president, until historian Drew Gilpin Faust took the post in 2007. Faust said of her role, “I hope that my own appointment can be one symbol of an opening of opportunities that would have been inconceivable even a generation ago... I’m not the woman president of Harvard, I’m the president of Harvard.”

  • First to win Academy Award for Best Director

    Kathryn Bigelow made history when she became the first woman to receive the Academy Award for Best Director in 2009.

  • First to win an Indy car race

    With her win in the 2008 Indy Japan 300, American auto racing driver Danica Patrick became the first woman to win an IndyCar race.

  • First to be head of the IMF

    Former French lawyer Christine Lagarde was appointed managing director of the International Monetary Fund in 2011. The first woman to hold this position, she also was first woman ever to become minister of Economic Affairs of a G8 economy.